Social media can help level the playing field between small businesses and larger competitors, giving small entrepreneurs a platform where they can use innovation, drive and personality to outhustle bigger businesses hobbled by stuffy corporate culture. Finding your niche on sites like Google +, Twitter and LinkedIn can help you reach out to customers and make them feel invested in your business and its success.
Despite it’s utility, there still remains a significant number of small business owners who don’t quite feel comfortable with social media yet. According to a recent SMB Business Perspectives poll, about a quarter of entrepreneurs surveyed said they are not yet comfortable with using social media. However, now may be the time to get acclimated to social media, as the same poll revealed that about 40 percent of small business owners in 2012 intend to join the 33 percent who are using social media to reach out to their clients.
More than two-thirds of Americans use social media of some sort, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are being embraced by all age groups and demographics. Facebook alone has more than 800 million users online, and Facebook is the site users spend the most time visiting.
Put together, the top three social networks, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter got more than 2.5 billion visits in just a month, and have phenomenal growth rates. In 2009, Facebook grew by 210 percent, LinkedIn grew by 85 percent and Twitter grew by more than 600 percent.
The great thing about social media and small business is that it’s completely free to use. Small business marketing budgets tend to be tight, but by starting a Facebook, Google + or Twitter account, or all three, you obtain a free way to put your message out to the public 24/7 at no cost.
When using social networking to appeal to customers, it’s important to remember the purpose of your Facebook page or Twitter account and use it accordingly. Misuse of social networking can result in embarassing gaffes or a loss in business. The following are a list of social media rules for small business that can help you effectively use social networking to aid your business in growing.
1. Start with a complete page. When setting up a social media account, don’t forget to add all the important details. Describe your business, giving a concise, but complete list of what you have to offer. Also, add directions and contact information, and a link to your website. Once you’ve done all that, go back and proofread your work, as bad spelling and grammar can be a turnoff
2. Add pictures. Half the fun of Facebook and social networking is seeing pictures of your friends – including friends who are business owners. Give your online fans a chance to see your business from the inside with photos of your facilities. Also include pictures of office parties and events at your business to make your fans feel like a part of the family. If you break ground on a new site or get a new product, include photos to keep your fans up to date on how your business is progressing.
3. Stay in touch. Frequently post to your site, announcing new developments, events, job openings, etc. If you’re a wit, or have an employee who is one, you may want to include the occasional witticism or Internet meme on your site, depending on your audience.
Keeping your site frequently updated keeps it fresh and keeps your audience engaged and interested in your business.
4. Keep your audience in mind. When posting to your site, keep your business’ target audience in mind. Bars and restaurants can be more informal and irreverent, while professional services may need to keep the tone a little more vanilla.
When marketing your business, you have an overall image of the business that you’re trying to convey. Don’t let out-of-character or off-message marketing efforts detract from the overall narrative concerning your business.
5. Think before you tweet. A series of embarassing social media faux pas have left celebrities and businesses with egg on their face in recent years. Don’t impulsively post or Tweet the first thing that comes to your mind. Before posting something to a social networking page, consider your business, its audience and whether the post you intend to put out for the world to see will help or hurt your enterprise. A little self-censoring now can help head off a lot of apologizing later.
6. Reach out to your friends. Get your friends and family following or friends with your account, and ask them to let their friends know about your business and encourage them to sign up for your tweets and stati as well. By getting your friends to bring their social network into your business’ orbit, you can start the ball rolling toward big results in your social media marketing strategy.
7. Keep it positive. While it’s okay to make the occasional snarky comment, on the whole, you want to keep your posts and tweets positive. Don’t use your social media to badmouth competitors or anyone else, as it can result in some pretty unpleasant consequences. Remember the rule of good karma when posting, and you should be fine.
8. Limit who is allowed to post. If a disgruntled employee has access to your social media account, he or she can do a lot of damage with inappropriate tweets, pictures or comments. Restrict which employees have the ability and permission to post to your site, and be sure to monitor your social media page for unintentional inappropriate content.
9. Offer deals and promotions online. By frequently offering deals and promotions via your Facebook page or other social media, you’ll keep your clients coming back to your page again and again, and keep your business on their minds.
10. Snoop the competition. Sign up on your competitors accounts and keep track of what they’re doing to get a better idea of what and what not to do with your own social media strategy.
Social networking is all about creating communities. By using Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to keep your customer base informed and entertained, you can build up a community around your business that will embrace and support it, helping you boost sales and profits.
Social media is an extremely useful marketing tool to small business. It can help in lead generation, direct appeals to clients, image and branding and a host of other activities. By getting online and making social media a priority for your business, you can get a leg up on less tech-savvy competitors and improve your small business’ chance of success.